Larry O’Brien belonged to John F. Kennedy’s Irish Mafia, but later – and inadvertently – helped end Richard Nixon’s presidency.
Lawrence Francis O’Brien was born July 7, 1917 in Springfield, Mass., the son of Irish immigrants. His father introduced him to politics at an early age. At 11, he volunteered for Al Smith’s campaign for president. In 1952, Kennedy appointed him to run his Senate campaign, along with Dave Powers of Boston and Kenny O’Donnell of Worcester.
O’Brien directed Kennedy’s reelection campaign and then his presidential campaign. In 1964 he directed Lyndon Johnson’s presidential campaign. Then in 1968 he worked for Hubert Humphrey, who lost to Richard Nixon.
During the Nixon administration, Larry O’Brien chaired the Democratic National Committee. He also secretly went to work for Howard Hughes as a lobbyist.
That connection to Hughes got his office at the Watergate robbed by Nixon’s campaign operatives called the ‘plumbers.’ Nixon worried that O’Brien had evidence of embarrassing information about his own relationship with Hughes.
On June 17, 1972, five burglars got caught robbing O’Brien’s office at the Watergate. The burglars had links to Nixon’s campaign committee. The subsequent investigation then brought down Nixon’s presidency.
In 1975, Larry O’Brien got a most appropriate job for someone from Springfield, Mass. He was named commissioner of the National Basketball Association.
Larry O’Brien died on Sept. 28, 1990 of cancer following surgery.
In his memoirs, he wrote, “I’m proud to be a politician. Politics is the art of the possible.”